Health Ministry said close to imposing closure on Bnei Brak

Mostly ultra-Orthodox town has highest ratio of confirmed cases to tests carried out; Jerusalem has highest number of infections in the country

A medical worker wearing protective gear takes a swab from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man for a coronavirus test in Bnei Brak, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A medical worker wearing protective gear takes a swab from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man for a coronavirus test in Bnei Brak, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Health Ministry is close to imposing a closure on the mostly ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak, according to a report by Channel 12 news Tuesday.

The report said the ministry has already prepared an injunction to go ahead with a closure on the town, which has the highest ratio of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection to tests carried out, according to figures released by the ministry earlier Tuesday.

According to the report the injunction states that residents of the town will only be allowed out of their homes “to purchase food, medicines and essential items, within the closed area; to seek medical assistance, even if it is outside of the closed area.” Employees of essential industries will be allowed to leave the restricted area to go to and return from work, the report claimed.

Bnei Brak has 571 confirmed infections out of 1,656 tests carried out. Jerusalem has 650 confirmed cases, but out of a far higher total of tests — 5,834. All told, Israel had as of Tuesday conducted 62,819 tests, with 4,843 people being found positive. Tel Aviv has 278 confirmed cases, followed by Ashkelon with 114 and Rishon Lezion with 104.

A total of 18 people have now died in Israel, the latest being a 90-year-old woman who died at the Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot on Tuesday afternoon. The woman was reported to have had preexisting medical conditions. Some 83 people are in serious condition.

On Monday, Channel 12 reported that Health Minister Yaakov Litzman wants police to control the entrances and exits from Bnei Brak, and to provide food and essential products to residents to keep them at home.

Police officers close synagogues and disperse public gatherings in the ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov confirmed that the issue had been raised in a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Ministry representatives.

“We are preparing for such scenarios,” he told Channel 12. “It requires intense involvement by the Home Front Command and the police — I believe we will see progress on the matter during the course of the day.”

The reports follow several incidents in which ultra-Orthodox residents of Bnei Brak flouted Health Ministry regulations intended to curb the spread of the virus, among them an open-air wedding and a funeral, both attended by hundreds of people.

Similar incidents have occurred in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Bnei Brak, east of Tel Aviv is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with 198,863 residents crammed in, at a rate of over 27,000 people per square kilometer, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The overwhelming majority of Bnei Brak residents are ultra-Orthodox, including members of some hardline sects who have resisted government directives shutting synagogues, schools, and houses of study. Some rabbinical leaders initially dismissed the panic over the virus, but most have since urged their followers to adhere to Health Ministry rules.

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